I will be the first to admit that I take more than my fair share of life advice from Nora Ephron’s truly wonderful nineties romantic comedies. (Well, When Harry Met Sally lands firmly in 1989, but we’ll let it slide.) Nora Ephron knew how to write real, vibrant women for the screen. The more mindful I become of how the women I see in movies and television are being treated (and, more generally, real feminism in all its lady-glory), the more I appreciate the thoughtfulness of these films that celebrate romance while not sacrificing the dignity or real-ness to their leading ladies at all. Rather, these films enhance and celebrate the validity and worth of being a woman with feelings. Because of this, I tend in my life to look first to the Ephron girl gang, the amazing women she wrote, when I find myself feeling down about my feelings or my body or my heart. Whether it’s the writing charming emails, asking for the sauce “on the side,” or singing loudly in the car with a resounding, “Harses, harses, harses, harses,” I see myself in Sally, Annie, and Kathleen, just as, I’m sure, Nora Ephron and Meg Ryan put bits of themselves into these fabulous fictional ladies.
These films aren’t just good for some serious role-modelling. They also feature some truly special apartments, which I’m sure were designed specifically to reflect how rad, creative, and real the movie-makers wanted to show their lead characters to be. There is some real nesting advice to be found in these films, or, if nothing else, incredible attention-to-detail to admire. It seems like home inspiration is everywhere, a cacophony of throw pillows, bar carts, rugs, art prints, white walls, crazy. I get weary of the sheer mass of it sometimes and the way it can feel disconnected from real life, real people. If you feel weary like I do, I’d encourage you to look in a new place, somehwere less expected Find your favorite film lady and check out the space the movie people designed to be her home. Some fantastic set-dresser worked with care and heart to made a space for the story to unfold in. A space that is particular, specific, and maybe even a lot like how we want our spaces to feel.
This post will come in three parts: one for each of my three favorite Ephron films. Each film lends something a bit different to the topic of nesting. I’ll start with You’ve Got Mail, which has my favorite apartment, hands down.
Isaiah and I were joking this morning about making it our life’s work to recreate Kathleen Kelly’s apartment to live in ourselves. It has special details, gorgeous materials, and just the right something. It feels like the right space for a lady as special as Kathleen Kelly to live in. This apartment demonstrates that she cares about the things she surrounds herself with, she collects beautiful things, she buys flowers at the grocery store regularly. It really comes across as carefully-collected and personal. The whole film is a celebration of independent, creative women who care about what they do in the world and for the world. The sort of women who live small but special lives. It’s one of the best ways to be, and You’ve Got Mail, lets it be both good and hard to be that sort of woman. I love that about this film, and always have.
Truly, I’m not sure that it can get better than living in a NYC greystone like these. They are the sorts of houses that stop me on the street. I could look at these front stoops all day. And she lives on the second floor so she can’t hear her neighbors stomp above her. Goals.
Alright, so much to see! A LOT of good stuff going on in this apartment. First of all, it’s an amazing space, absurdly large, and, strangest of all, a studio. Can someone please tell me where I can find this apartment for $1000/month? No?
The plates on the wall are perfect (are they plates? I’m going to think they are.) The sliding door with the fancy glass is fantastic, and really the liberal use of white with a splash of wallpaper is just right. This space is feminine without going completely overboard, although she has every right to because she is Kathleen Kelly!! See that cool chair in the living room? Very into it. Also, notice how the desk isn’t against a wall. Very good. She’s making good use of her fairly open floor plan and letting herself look out the window while writing dreamy emails about bouquets of sharpened pencils to Tom Hanks. Kathleen Kelly power points all around.
There’s literally so much good to process in this first shot. I hope you’re currently doing what I did and squinting at your computer screen to soak it all in. The tin under the desk, the wicker chair in the foreground, mystery pictures on the walls, and a plant! A very good start.
A tighter view revealing even more books than we saw at first which makes me love her even more. The woman is swimming in books. Her job, her apartment, it’s perfect. I bet she underlines things and writes notes in the margins. I’d like to borrow a book from Kathleen Kelly. I also like how she styles all her little boxes along with the books on the shelf. A lady’s gotta have a place to stash stuff. Kathleen is not living the minimal life. No one has Marie Kondo’ed her yet, and I’m glad. Keep your trinkets and your pretty boxes! It all sparks joy! All of it!
Also, her mini gallery wall game is on point even before it got all trendy.
Let’s all just appreciate this special print in her bedroom which is also the study which bleeds into the living room. I can’t even tell what it is, but I know I love it. A circus? The Grand Budapest hotel? A dollhouse? Who knows.
Also the double-lamp situation on the dresser is interesting.
More more more books books books. And the bathroom is too beautiful and has stained glass in it. I have a thing for wood toilet seats. And the molding carrying over to the sink cabinet. Very good.
Also, bonus points for Kathleen’s pajamas. So classic. I instantly like people who wear pajama sets. Especially white ones with stripes.
The four little flower prints by the door, paired with the stained glass. So special. Also, loving the wire basket to catch mail and things. And are those dried flowers? Go Kathleen go!
Loving the doily on in the frame on the wall. If that doesn’t say, “I’m a fantastic woman who loves pretty things,” I don’t know what does.
Also, I spy more dried flowers. And a landline phone. I miss those things.
Oh my goodness. Note to self, if ever opening a children’s book shop (or any shop at all for that matter) make it look just like this. The green is gorgeous. And the bench out front. Even the grate is pretty. I didn’t know that was possible.
A room we haven’t seen yet! I love so many things about it. First, the butterfiles on the wall. And the gorgeous wooden chairs. And the wooden taper candlesticks. And her blue cupboard. And the doors that swing out for the entry to the kitchen. None of it is trying to be fancy. It’s all just lovely.
Literally, I would buy those chairs in a second if I found them somewhere. They’re exactly the sort of chairs I’d like to sit all my children in for afterschool dinners and breakfast cereal. But, getting ahead of myself.
She has a teacup collection in the blue cupboard! It’s very good! (And a goofy boyfriend!)
Yes, in fact that is a poster about small cakes in her kitchen. And we are all proud. Also, I’m really into the wicker-basket and windowsill situation. Another teapot, plants, no one is mad. It’s a small little kitchen, but she does it well. Cozy, with warm touches. Not just utilitarian. Go Kathleen.
The wall behind the counter at the shop has all sorts of pictures, including the picture of her twirling with her mother! So good!
The right way to celebrate Christmas. Singing songs poorly with good people in your home. Also, bonus points to Kathleen for having a piano in her apartment and that cool blue/black chair that no one is sitting in.
Sweet Kathleen decorating the tree and wishing she had a river she could skate away on. I feel you, girl.
Also, mad props to Ephron women for being consistent with the Christmas trees. Katheen Kelly going for the full, real tree, fully decorated in the shop window. And Sally gets a big old tree just for herself when Harry is out of the picture for a bit. They go for it in the Christmas department, even if no one else really cares about the extra effort. I like that.
(Psst, is that a swan ornament on the tree? Don’t scratch your head yet, you’ll be in on the secret in a second.)
That little standing wicker basket thing by the desk is very cool, and I would like one to hold my back-issues of the New Yorker. I kind of hope Kathleen Kelly has stashed back-issues of the New Yorker in hers. Also, this moment is lovely, and the soft warm light from the lamp is just right. Goodnight, dear void.
Her bed, so cute! Big patterened duvet, cozy, puffy, great, and patterned sheets, always fun! I’m also into the puffy headboard. If she is the sort of person who reads in bed, which obviously she is, the puffy headboard can make up for a lot of pillow-rearranging.
Also, I’m all about the light-colored bedding. Great choices all around.
Here begins our realization that Kathleen likes swans. (See?) Right above her bed is this gorgeous art piece depicting two swans. Striking, lovely, and very fitting. She would love swans. This also begins the theme of Ephron leading ladies having a favorite animal that shows up over and over in their homes. You’ll see it again in When Harry Met Sally.
There’s the gorgeous black chair again, paired with some great wicker. I also love a good flowery couch piled high with pillows. And flowers on the coffee table. Really, a gal can never have too many flowers no matter how too cool for school she thinks she is.
Alert! Kathleen is feeling sad because she thinks her dream guy stood her up (but really it’s Tom Hanks being a temporary jerk!!). AND, she added a quilt to her bed, always a very very good choice. It’s going to be okay, Kathleen! What you don’t see in the screenshot is that the very next things she does is curl up under said quilt without even taking her shoes off. I feel you, girl. That’s what quilts are for.
I hope her mother made that quilt for her. Or, better yet, her grandmother.
Also, it’s the first time I’m noticing the parquet floors. Mmm.
OKAY HERE IS WHY BIRDIE IS THE THIRD BEST CHARACTER IN THIS MOVIE (after Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, obviously). She’s all like quirky but normal old lady for the whole movie until you get to this scene and then BAM, this insanely luscious apartment. Look at it! It’s crazy! Oh my goodness, the plates on the wall, the coffee-table books all shelved in that gorgeous wood shelf thing, the black iron chairs, the PLANTS everywhere, the fireplace, the huge great art over the fireplace, OMG AN ICON next to Kathleen’s head, it is seriously much too good to be true. Squint at this place, my friends. It’s a dream home.
RED WALLS with pictures all over them, some sort of organge-upholstered couch, red and purple flowers, Birdie you are TOO MUCH, be my grandma.
Back to Kathleen, with a better view of her gorgeous blue cupboard. Notice the little red chair on the top shelf. Like, what is that??? It’s too great!!! Kathleen! So proud of her and her top-notch fictional nesting (aka major props to Nora Ephron and mystical set dresser).
Also, I’m really glad that there is a classic coat tree in this apartment.
I love the airplane on the coffee table. End of story.
SWAN SIGHTING #2. BY THE FRONT DOOR. Also, a very cute Tom Hanks face.
Okay, a couple things. Here’s another look at the perfect wood chairs. Obsessed with the bread box under the table in the kitchen AND just the presence of the table in the kitchen, I would never think to do that but it’s so smart and I like how she uses it for mostly non-kitchen-y things like a lamp and pictures. Go Kathleen. Also, love the wreath in the window. AND, bottles of Evian water keep turning up in Ephron films. One is featured prominently in the post-sex scene in When Harry Met Sally. I guess Nora likes Evian. Or she was sponsored by them??? Who knows.
Okay, very fun realization. Post break up with kooky boyfriend and loss of livelihood, Kathleen moved her bed! She rearranged!!! It used to be flat against the wall and now it’s in the corner where the lovely wood dresser used to be and she hung new pictues. Seriously, scroll back up and check it out. Sometimes a gal needs a change when her life’s work unravels and she leaves her boyfriend and everything is falling apart and she is in love with an internet stranger and her arch-enemy keeps showing up at her door. You rearrange that room, Kathleen. You deserve it.
Also, notice the mobile over her bed. Sweet Kathleen brought home all the decorations from the shop and hung them up in her home. I’m sure they make her both happy and sad every time she sees them.
Bye, sweet Kathleen. Enjoy life with Tom Hanks. I wonder if she will move into his place or if he will move into hers. I sort of very much hope that she won’t lose her special apartment full of swans and flowers and the mobiles from the shop and lovely things.
Our homes are deeply personal. Even by simply examining the spaces created for this movie, I feel a deeper sense of catching onto what Nora was trying to say with the film, a clearer view of the life she was trying to capture. There’s a fullness in it, depths to plumb, even in just noticing a strange tiny red chair on a cupboard shelf. I want to always treat the spaces that I live in like they are a part of me, like they too reflect the depths of who I am, even in tiny ways. I hope someone could peek into the windows of my life, my spaces, and feel interested in the tiny red chairs I set on my shelves, or the similar bits and bobs that I care about, the kitchen chairs I choose, the books on my shelves. It’s not arbitrary, and people are not arbitrary either. This apartment created for a fictional character is anything but arbitrary. It’s gorgeously specific, a poem of a place, and I’m glad to have peeked in. Thanks for peeking with me.
If you wanna see more Ephron movie obsession (it’s strong in me and I’m not sorry) check out my somewhat crazy post on Sally’s outfits in When Harry Met Sally. And, if you’re a lover of these films too, let me know! I love to chat about them.
Don’t forget to check back in over the next few weeks for Part 2, When Harry Met Sally, and Part 3, Sleepless in Seattle. Keep obsessing with me!
(all images are screenshots from my personally-owned dvd of the film, and are not meant to be shared beyond this exploratory post. All credit goes to the film-makers.)